Activists create 'JAILS'
By Jim Green
In 1998, about 500 people were arrested at the Jabiluka uranium mine blockade in the Northern Territory. Many are to face court in coming months. JAILS (Jabiluka Arrestees Information and Legal Support) has been established in Darwin to support arrestees and to campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine.
On July 14, 118 people took part in the largest action at Jabiluka. The court cases for about 35 of these protesters began on January 18 in the Darwin Magistrate's Court. Protesters face charges that include damaging mines (maximum penalty seven years in jail), trespass and disturbing the public peace.
The protesters will mount a group defence based on "necessity": it was necessary to trespass because of the dangers uranium mining poses to people in the area and the rest of the world, and to the culture of the Mirrar people.
There is evidence to suggest that police were improperly authorised by the mining company Energy Resources of Australia to remove protesters from the mining lease, and this may form the basis of a defence for those charged with trespassing on enclosed lands.
Some arrestees face the prospect of a jail sentence under NT laws which stipulate mandatory jail terms for property offences. These protesters will appear in court in late March.
The mandatory sentencing laws were introduced in 1997 to combat an imaginary crime wave. The NT has the highest per capita rate of imprisonment in Australia. The introduction of mandatory sentencing has brought a sharp increase in the prison population, a disproportionate number of whom are young and/or Aboriginal.
In the case of Jabiluka protesters, charges attracting a mandatory jail sentence include "criminal damage" and "unlawful use of a motor vehicle" (by locking themselves to mining equipment).
Protesters face 14 days in jail for a first offence, 90 days for a second offence and one year for a third offence. Sentences must be served consecutively, so some Jabiluka arrestees face 104 days in jail if convicted on two charges.
JAILS would appreciate support from "down south" in the form of solidarity actions, media support (a media kit is available) and donations. Donations can be deposited in the Jabiluka Legal Fund, Commonwealth Bank, account number 5901 1030 3566.
The Sydney Jabiluka Action Group has voted to give JAILS 15% of all funds raised. JAILS would also like people to donate legal expertise.
JAILS operates under the auspices of the Darwin Community Legal Service, and can be contacted by phone on (08) 8941 6708 or by fax on (08) 8941 0355.